Cyclones’ biggest test on the ground. Wildcats 6-5, 226-pound QB Collin Klein can gain three yards simply by being tackled and falling forward. He’s 16-4 as a starter. Then there’s tailback John Hubert, the Big 12’s second-leading rusher. He’s averaging 6.9 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. Advantage: Kansas State.
Klein competed seven passes last week. Seven. And the Wildcats scored 56 points while thrashing KU. The Cyclones’ defense will pose a much greater challenge — and force Klein to throw. ‘Cats don’t like that. Klein did connect with Tramaine Thompson for a 68-yard touchdown in last year’s 30-23 win at Manhattan. Advantage: ISU.
Cyclones hope quarterback Jared Barnett’s smooth execution of the zone-read helps the running game get on track. Shontrelle Johnson and James White have both had big moments, but need more. The Wildcats give up just 109.4 yards per game on the ground and have recovered eight fumbles. Advantage: Kansas State.
Barnett’s been tabbed to manage games, but he did more than that in the upset road win at TCU, hitting Josh Lenz over the top for scoring strikes of 51 and 74 yards. He’ll need to be clicking with his pre-snap reads Saturday. Wildcats have five interceptions this season, but bend the most in the passing game. (Slight) advantage: Kansas State.
ISU punter Kirby Van Der Kamp is who everyone thought he was — one of the best in the country at turning field position. He’ll need to be an angling expert Saturday. K-State’s Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are dangerous return men and average 36 yards per punt return. That’s No. 1 in the nation. Advantage: ISU
Cyclones continue to build a fine home-field advantage. A sell-out crowd is expected for a game most anyone can find on TV (FX). Kansas State is the FBS’s least-penalized team at a paltry 14.2 yards per game. They’ve committed just three turnovers, including one fumble lost in a total of 209 carries. The weather — tornadoes, anyone? — could come into play. Barnett had fumble problems last year. And those famous Jack Trice Stadium winds could be howling while kicking up sheets of precipitation. (Slight) advantage: Kansas State.
ISU will win if ... the Wildcats are unable to sustain drives with their Klein-led running game. John Hubert’s a good back, too — “very underrated” as Cyclone DB Deon Broomfield calls him. Make Klein throw. Cyclones must keep their takeaway train running, too — the five last week has nearly equalized the team’s turnover margin.
Kansas State will win if ... ISU’s offense reverts to turnover machine mode and Barnett looks like he did in the Pinstripe Bowl. If the Wildcats’ offensive line can push around a much-improved Cyclone front four, that could cause problems. Both teams are run-first, but K-State is run-always if it can get and maintain it’s footing, as it usually does.
Prediction: Kansas State 27, ISU 22
Jared Barnett. The off-and-on starting quarterback for the Cyclones vows not to relinquish the job this time. The savvy sophomore was extremely efficient and productive in last week’s 37-23 win at TCU, conducting big plays to receiver Josh Lenz. Barnett’s thrown an interception in six straight regular season games he’s played in.
K-State’s John Hubert. While quarterback Collin Klein garners lots of attention — deservedly so — for his punishing running numbers, Hubert is quietly having a spectacular season. He also was a big reason the Wildcats edged the Cyclones last season, rushing for a game-high 120 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.ISU’s Edwin Arceo. A “things to watch” mainstay, Arceo’s been solid on field goals, with his only misses coming from 49 and 57 yards. He’s also hit a 49-yarder. Where he struggles most is PAT kicks. Three misses in 17 tries is troubling. But Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads noted last week’s miss was mostly because of a bad snap.